Mr. Zinke has stated that the agency review process made no presumptions about the outcomes. “We want to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard,” Mr. Zinke said at a news conference in May during a visit to Bear’s Ears.
Most of the deliberations took place. The internal Interior Department emails — more than 25,000 pages in total — were obtained by The New York Times after it sued the agency in federal court with the assistance of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale University Law School. The lawsuit cited the agency’s failure to respond to an open records request in August asking for internal records related to the deliberations.
The bulk of the records made public from the Interior Department — about 20,000 pages of them — detail the yearslong effort during the Obama government to make new monuments, such as input from environmental groups, Indian tribes, state officials and members of Congress. President Barack Obama expanded 29 national monuments during his tenure, representing a total of about 553 million acres, more than any of his predecessors or created.
The rest of the pages, a total of approximately 4,500 files, relate to the Trump government’s reconsideration of these actions by Mr. Obama and other presidents.
Heather Swift, the Interior Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that no uranium mine or milling operations were found within the boundaries of either the original or modified Bears Ears National Monument.
In reviewing monuments, Ms. Swift said, “The Secretary took into consideration the views of many different interested parties, such as members of congress, governors, tribal and state leaders, and the public, including the views of those parties as to potential revised monument boundaries. One such organization that weighed was the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) that is responsible for funding so the children of Utah receive a quality education.”
Matthew Whitlock, a spokesman for Senator Hatch, said that the senator has been involved in discussions around Bears Ears for years. He emphasized that some of the property had long been designated to help fund local schools, which Senator Hatch’s interest was to guard the school funding.
The internal Interior Department emails and memos also demonstrate the central role that worries over gaining access to coal reserves played in the decision by the Trump government to shrink the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by about 47 percent, to just over 1 million acres.
Mr. Zinke’s staff developed a series of estimates on the value of coal which could possibly be mined from a section of Grand Staircase called the Kaiparowits plateau. As a consequence of Mr. Trump’s actions, major parts the area are no more part of the national monument.
“The Kaiparowits plateau, located within the monument, comprises one of the largest coal deposits in the USA,” an Interior Department memo, issued in the spring of 2017, stated. About 11.36 billion tons are “technologically recoverable,” it projected.
From the beginning of the Interior Department review process, agency officials directed staff to find out how much coal, oil and natural gas — as well as grass for cattle grazing, and timber — had been put essentially off limits, or made harder to get, from the decision to designate the areas as national monuments.
1 memo, for example, asked Interior personnel to prepare a report on each national monument, with a yellow highlighter on the records emphasizing the need to examine in detail “annual production of coal, oil, gas and renewables (if any) on site; amount of energy transmission infrastructure on site (if any).” It was followed by a reminder to employees in June to also look at how the decision to make new National Monuments in Utah could have hurt area mines.
“Sorry about this, but this came from DOI late yesterday,” Timothy Fisher, the leader of the National Monuments and Conservation Areas program at Interior wrote to his colleagues, speaking to the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington. “Are there any mines or processing centers near or adjacent to a National Monument?” he wrote. He also asked how the protection of the national lands could have affected mining.
In another email exchange, in May, two Bureau of Land Management officials said that Mr. Zinke’s chief of staff for policy, Downey Magallanes, had phoned to request information on a uranium mill in or close to the Bears Ears monument. The petition sought “economic data to the extent available,” as well as grazing and hunting maps.
And on July 17, Ms. Magallanes and Mr. Zinke’s adviser for energy policy, Vincent DeVito, met with representatives of a uranium mining company. The company, Energy Fuels Resources Inc., said its agents hoped to talk about its White Mesa uranium mill as well as the Daneros uranium mine, both adjacent to the Bears Ears monument.
Besides Paul Goranson, a top executive at Energy Fuels Resources, the meeting included Mary Bono, a former Republican congresswoman from California; and Andrew Wheeler, then a lobbyist at the firm Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting and now awaiting confirmation to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The debate over oil and gas reserves under the ground in Bears Ears had begun during the Obama government, the records show, with officials from Utah State Board of Education writing to the Interior Department objecting to the plan to designate the land a national monument.
Before Utah became a state, in 1896, the federal government allowed so-called trust lands to support state institutions, like the public schools, given that nearly 70 percent of the nation is federally controlled land.
The country has generated more than $1.7 billion in revenue from the trust lands to support public schools, mostly by promoting mineral rights permitting private companies to extract oil or gas. The Bears Ears National Monument made by President Obama in 2016 comprised about 110,000 acres of these trust lands, eliminating the prospect of resource sales, the state said.
John Andrews, associate director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which oversees the lands designated for college funding, acknowledged that the new Bears Ears boundaries approved by Mr. Trump, which decreased the land removed from the trust’s administration to about 22,000 acres, reflected his band’s petition to exclude its trust lands.
But he noted that Mr. Trump ultimately reduced the monument by a much larger amount than his organization had sought.
“Clearly they were looking at details other than the ones we’d raised, we presume,” he said.
Mr. Whitlock, the spokesman for Mr. Hatch, said, “Senator Hatch is grateful these emails are released since they make really clear that his priority in addressing the Bears Ears situation was looking out for the people of Utah.”